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Japan local TV network union claims president demanded less news coverage to cut costs –

Gunma Television labor union chairman Masao Maeshima, second from left, and others are seen during a news conference on filing a petition for relief with the Gunma Prefecture Labor Relations Commission at the prefectural government headquarters in Maebashi on Oct. 18, 2023. (Mainichi/Ryuko Tadokoro)

MAEBASHI — The labor union of Gunma Television (GTV) Co., the only local TV network in east Japan’s Gunma Prefecture, has sought relief from the prefectural labor commission, claiming the network illegally intervened with the union after its president demanded that news coverage be reduced to cut expenses.

The labor union filed a motion with the Gunma Prefecture Labor Relations Commission on Oct. 18 on the grounds that the demand by network president Kazuo Takei and other executives violated the Broadcasting Act, which stipulates that TV networks have public missions. In its motion the union also argued the move could lower the quality of GTV’s programs.

According to the petition and other sources, the union had held collective bargaining talks with the network since June on three separate occasions for working condition improvements, such as alleviating long hours caused by cost cuts, but the network instead transferred five union executives to different posts. This included moving union chairman Masao Maeshima from the position of director at the production department to camera operator at the tech department in September, and also transferring a union executive who was an anchor to the sales department the following month.

The network had 58 employees as of March 2023, but over a period of three years up to August the same year it transferred a total of 122 people on 25 occasions. To cut costs, the network also suspended or reduced deals with outside production companies and had inexperienced network employees produce programs, while having a large number of employees hold posts across multiple departments. As a result, the network saw at least 10 errors in September including broadcasting the wrong visuals and attaching the wrong subtitles.

Regarding the frequent personnel transfers, the union quoted President Takei as saying during labor-management talks in September, “I decide whether it’s too many.” He apparently also demanded news reporting be reduced as it cost around 100,000 yen (about $670) to produce one news segment, saying, “(Public broadcaster) NHK’s Maebashi bureau can cover (the news).”

The network in fact cut its overall news programs by 10-20 minutes the same month, and Takei reportedly told a July board meeting, during which the reduced news time was decided, that the network “doesn’t need to broadcast news programs at all. We also don’t need to go cover the cities of Tatebayashi, Shibukawa and Tomioka (which aren’t in paid programming contracts with the network).”

GTV’s shareholders include the prefectural government, which owns 15.06% of shares, the Maebashi Municipal Government and The Gunma Bank Ltd. Takei assumed GTV presidency in June 2014 after serving as executive managing director at The Gunma Bank.

In a statement on the issue, the network said, “We have been in talks with the union in a sincere manner, and while we are not aware of the content of the petition, we’re going to respond appropriately.”

Gunma Gov. Ichita Yamamoto told an Oct. 19 news conference that the prefectural government as the network’s top shareholder will consider how to respond to the matter after hearing from the union. On Takei’s alleged comments, Yamamoto said, “I was genuinely surprised. If it’s true, they are extremely problematic comments considering the public nature of television.”

(Japanese original by Ryuko Tadokoro, Maebashi Bureau)

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